Iowa NRHS Convention
Part 1: June 17-22

Photos by Dave Ingles
Sunday June 17, 2012

With the NRHS national convention being held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and environs, an easy half-day drive away, Carol and I made a family vacation out of it, and headed west on Sunday, June 17. Our first objective was to intercept the special train UP and Amtrak were operating from Chicago to “C.R.” As we drove south to UP’s Geneva Sub (Overland Route, C&NW), we were well ahead of his 1030 am scheduled Chicago departure, so we dropped off I-39 to check out Davis Junction, and soon lucked out with an eastbound DM&E freight, at 1030, with units 6200/6443/6097/CITX 3102.

After checking out the Illinois Railway’s parking spot for its engine north of Rochelle, and finding only a leaser in scratched-out UP livery, we went into Rochelle and got this eastbound coming by the Railroad Park at 1120, units 4738/1102.

The UP main line was quiet, so we headed west, checking out open spots we might shoot the Amtrak special as he caught up to us. We did find these two old UP SD40-2’s, 3586/2984, the latter ex-C&NW, switching Global 3 at Flagg, at 1141. I didn’t realize any of the old C&NW units were still active, but the nose bell gives away its C&NW heritage.

Checking out places as we went west via Illinois 38, but around Dixon, we finally found action at Nelson. An eastbound stacker with four units (8424/4227/3297 up front, DPU 7670 rear) surprised us at 1225 pm. Ten minutes later, with us now east of Nelson, a westbound coal empty with 5577/6344 went by, and then we photographed a parked loaded coal train at the point where the Dixon low-grade freight cutoff used to diverge, with units 5564/6274. Back at the tower site, at 1244 this eastbound stacker came by with units 7921/4538/6419/5755/4971, the middle unit being a patched SP. As he went under the coal tower, a westbound coal empty with units 5777/4921 and DPU 6400 met him. In the going-away view of the stacker, the third train, on the right, is the stopped 5564 East.

Finally at 107 pm another empty coal train came by, 7148/7112 and DPU 6409. The end result was that between 1225 and 110 pm, we saw or photo’ed 6 trains. We also received a call from Rick Moser that he had been sitting at Wheaton for 2 hours, no Amtrak special, and he learned that it hadn’t left Chicago as of 12:30, so we grabbed lunch to-go at the Rock Falls Subway and went out thru Galt and ate trackside at Agnew, Ill., where one eastbound approached and stopped to wait for a local working in Sterling to clear up.

We later got another phone report from Rick Moser that the Amtrak special had passed Elmhurst at 1 p.m., so we went on into Clinton first for cheaper Iowa gas (in the $3.30s everywhere for the week’s duration), then returned to our chosen grade crossing to wait, Millard Rd. at MP 130, west of Union Grove and just east of Bluffs, Ill., where UP goes under the BNSF Peavine. John Dziobko was the only other railfan here, he’d been parked in the shade for hours. The special came by at 332 pm: UP 1995 C&NW Heritage/Amtrak 40 and 9 cars, the same consist that would prevail on all NRHS trips all week. Carol took the digital photos from the car. Amtrak 40 is one of the grubbiest-looking P42s in the fleet. Cars: 5 coaches: Sandberg’s Wenonah, Nokomis, Lake Pepin; NRHS chapters’ Franklin Inn, Braddock Inn, NYC lounge 38; Iowa Pacific’s dome lounge Scenic View; Sandberg’s Super Dome 53, Skytop obs Cedar Rapids.

We followed the special into Clinton, got him moving slowly at 345 pm at 22nd St. from the now-cleared-out area where C&NW’s car shops were.

While he changed crews, we went on west on Route 30 and set up at a grade crossing at MP 12.6 (from Clinton) at 410 pm. We went on west on 30 and saw only 2 trains, both eastbounds, a stacker across the fields at Stanwood and a merchandiser west of Mechanicsville. The entire UP main seemed very quiet.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Our objective for Monday, June 18, had been to perhaps buy a ticket and join the NRHS event at the Mt. Pleasant Threshermen’s railroad, which we’d done with a small crowd at a regional NRHS event in the 1970s, but high 90s temperatures (which held for 3 days) scotched any thoughts of driving to that venue and walking around. Instead we drove out to Grinnell to have lunch at the old joint Rock Island-M&StL depot at the diamond crossing south of the Grinnell College campus, a long-standing objective of mine. A year under new ownership as “The Peppertree at Depot Crossing,” it is excellent! Here are three pictures, one of a photo (one of many) on the wall showing how it used to be, a similar one of a southbound M&StL freight, and a third from our lunch table looking toward the round portion next to the diamond. The track visible is UP’s ex-C&NW/M&StL Marshalltown-Oskaloosa branch; it crosses Iowa Interstate’s ex-RI main line here.

We returned as we’d gone out, on Highway 6, but on the return we went on east and toured around Iowa City, checking out the Crandic’s city track we’d ride on Friday, and found first a westbound Iowa Interstate (IAIS) freight pumping air near the old RI depot, and then at the engine terminal, IAIS 513, their Rock Island-painted big GE unit, in perfect light. IAIS’s new shop, called South Amana but just west of the Yocum Wye at Homestead, is almost finished and I’d guess it will be occupied in a few weeks. The shop and yard in town are cramped and amidst a residential neighborhood. Back in Cedar Rapids we shot a UP yard job at work, and one of Crandic’s switcher-slug sets.

Tuesday June 19, 2012

Our objective this day was to chase the Cedar Rapids-Rock Island, Ill., IAIS excursion, which was diesel-powered eastward and steam westward to the Yocum wye at South Amana (Homestead). Two Iowa Northern F40s, 461/678 (both originally Amtrak), were on the coach end of the 9-car consist all week to provide head-end power, and pulled the train south to the new South Amana shop area just west of the Yocum wye, where IAIS 513 in RI paint was attached to the Skytop obs to pull the train “backwards” east to Rock Island. The 461 is one of the ex-Canadian American RR units modified with a front walkway; it’s in IANR’s standard CP-style maroon and gray. The 678 is a pure F40, painted a la Rock Island in maroon and silver by IANR owner Dan Sabin (see his stories as a young dispatcher in Classic Trains), numbered above RI’s handful of passenger F7s, and has a genuine cast RI emblem on the nose. I chased the train from Fairfax down to Yocum Wye and got him 3 times, the best one from the wye’s east switch of the entire consist taking the west leg.

Most of the chasers stayed at the wye, but I got this nice shot showing the new shop under construction and the RI painted unit ready to couple to the Skytop.

Between Homestead and Tiffin, a small town just west of Iowa City, I got him 3 more times in a hectic chase, the last and best one here at Tiffin.

After the Tiffin encounter, I let the train go on, as i knew from the scanner that the daily eastbound IAIS mainline freight was ready to leave the Yocum Wye behind him. I went back west and saw the train just leaving, units 510/502/506 with 105 cars, at 1035. I shot him at Homestead, Oxford, and Tiffin, concluding at 1055. This photo, showing a typical old grain elevator and some farm implements, was made at Oxford, which is a couple of miles off US 6 and therefore no time to go to during the chases of the passenger train. I barely made it for the freight!

Then while the train went on to Rock Island to swap 513 for IAIS’s QJ 2-10-2 6988 on the front to lead west, I went back to C.R. to fetch Carol for the afternoon chase. Once in the city, before fetching her at the motel on the city’s north side, I shot the CN’s local switcher at work near the CN’s small yard: orange EJ&E SD38-2 657.

We intercepted the steam train at Durant and got him 4 times, the best photos being passing the Atalissa depot (hidden behind brush at the right, and in bad shape) at 335 pm; at the Highway 6 crossing west of West Liberty at 350 (coming and going), and at 357 on a curve near the MP 348 dectector.

We capped the day with an early supper at the Steak n Shake in Coralville, next to Iowa City, where we had eaten on previous trips but the only one in Iowa we would visit on this trip.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

This turned out to be an off-day for us from the convention. Since it was still in the high 90s, I decided against riding the steam and diesel IAIS trip west to Newton (no new mileage for me), turned in my Skytop ticket at NRHS convention HQ at the Clarion Hotel, and Carol and I went on a 300-mile circle drive north, almost to the Minnesota border, in search of depots, enjoying our air-conditioned van. The first depot we shot was perhaps the best, on the old Waterloo, Cedar Falls & Northern interurban line, now a recreational trail, at Center Point.

At Independence, Iowa, on the CN-IC Chicago-Waterloo main line, the depot has been turned 90 degrees and moved a half block north and east from its original site on the south side of the track, and beautifully restored, including a small separate baggage building. An ex-IC caboose and a former Grand Trunk Western 0-8-0, from the NW Steel & Wire fleet in Sterling, Ill., are on display behind it, the 0-8-0 carrying "IC 30" as i.d.; it was probably in the GTW 8300-8309 series.

The former Chicago Great Western hub of Oelwein (OL-wine), which had a big yard and CGW's backshop, and whose yard office doubled as a passenger depot in later years, now has a museum at the yard office. Some yard tracks still exist to the northwest, and one track comes up to the town from Waterloo, part of the old CGW main line to Kansas City, now owned by UP and a car repair outfit. Iowa Northern runs on the south end of it out of Waterloo to a new ethanol plant, but I'm not sure who runs the rest of the line up to Oelwein, or how often. The museum has a collection -- all outdoors, unfortunately, and subject to sunlight -- of equipment that is very nice, including CGW FP7 116A (built for freight service only, CGW used regular F7s on its passenger trains), an Omaha Road SW1, an Alco S2 of unknown origin, and some freight cars and cabooses.

The grain elevator at Fort Atkinson, Iowa, owns the MILW depot buildings, and now labels them for what they hold in storage. Hay is the old passenger depot,  Straw the freight.

The city park is downtown Cresco, on the former MILW Austin, Minn.-Calmar, Iowa branch, has this nice display of an FP7, boxcar, flatcar, and caboose.

In addition to the depot photos presented, we photographed almost a dozen others, saw museums honoring both our heritages: Czech (me) in the village of Spillville, & Norwegian (Carol) in Decorah, where we lunched at Culver’s. We didn’t see a moving train all day, but enjoyed the outing.

Thursday, June 21

Today the NRHS buses went to Boone, Iowa, to ride the Boone Scenic tourist line, which we did two summers ago. As a bonus, by return phone call I finally connected with Bob Milner of Hutchinson, Kan., long-time Trains/Classic Trains contributing photographer who had lived for years in Arkansas City (“Ark City,” prounced Ar-KAN-zuss), an old Santa Fe division point where my late father had lived as a child, and where his mother, before marriage and again after she was widowed when Dad was 3, worked as a Harvey Girl in the station restaurant. When she remarried, of course, she had to leave Harvey, and the family moved to Oklahoma where her new husband managed a hotel. Bob Milner and I had a nice 45-minute visit at the Clarion, NRHS’s HQ hotel. With the weather cooled off into the 80s today, in the afternoon we just sought out local UP mainline action, mostly in vain.

While driving thru Cedar Rapids to the UP, we chanced upon this Crandic switcher-slug set going to work:

First we went east to Bertram, where at 2 p.m. we finally coaxed this eastbound coal load by, engines 6884/6649, DPU 7210. Track inspectors then got on the rail there to go east, so we left.

We moseyed west to a downriver view of UP's Cedar River bridges, where at 2:40 we got this eastbound Herzog ballast train, led by unit 6949 with another GE trailing.

Then it was back to Fairfax, west of the city, where we'd checked out earlier but saw nothing. We didn't record the time, but this single-unit eastbound train of trilevels came by behind unit 5715, no DPU.

In late afternoon, we met and visited with our long-time friends Ken and JoAnn Breher of Cedar Rapids for dinner in the Czech Village, about half of which is rebuilt after the devastating 2008 Cedar River flood. The new big Czech History Center there is to open next month.

Friday, June 22

This was the day of my only train ride, and only new mileage, on the original Crandic interurban line, a less-than-full-day trip from 8 am to 1 pm. We bused to and loaded at Swisher, a village 8 miles south of C.R., first going north on the train, and farther than expected, right into one of the yards by giant ADM (which connected me with an early 2000s rare-mileage trip route through Cedar Rapids), then reversed south all the way into downtown Iowa City, and finally returned to Swisher. New miles: 23. Crandic had a switcher-slug set on the Skytop end and the two F40s were on the north end. A multiple run-by was held at Oakdale, on wide-open former hospital grounds, just north of Iowa City. Most of the “usual suspects” among mileage collectors were on board. I sat in Iowa Pacific’s ex-ATSF full dome “Scenic View,” now painted IC orange and brown.

Here are the Jennings. Bart, who was contracted by NRHS to put together the convention, is a veteran organizer of shortline trips, under the auspices of the rail museum in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Now a rail consultant as well as a professor in logistics at Western Illinois University in Macomb, for years he taught at the Univ. of Tennessee in Knoxville. His wife, Sarah, the "power behind the throne," helps him with details on all aspects of trips; she is a free-lance editor, mostly of technical writing, who works out of their home in rural Avon, Illinois. They are pictured on board the Friday trip. For her homemade shirt, we declared Sarah to be the "Corn Princess."

When the train went north, we passed these ADM switchers, parked in the yard that is visible from the nearby US 30 freeway. They didn't appear to have moved all week. The 1196 appears to be ex-SP, the 1251 possibly ex-MoPac.

Here are scenes during the Oakdale run-by. After I photographed Mike Schafer, he photographed me with Chuck Weinstock (center) and Rick Moser. The train made a double run-by in each direction.

In the afternoon, Carol & I just chilled out, wrote postcards, and then met Rick and Jane Moser for dinner at a Red Lobster near the Linndale Mall out toward Marion. Chuck Weinstock, who was traveling with the Mosers, went with several California fans to the Cedar Rapids Kernels-Wisconsin (Appleton) Timber Rattlers Class A Midwest League baseball game; we’d been to a game in the old stadium at the same site years and years ago, with Brehers in Square-D field box seats by the dugout.

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